World-building, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How to explain magic in a story?

Magic is a tricky thing to explain. If you’re not careful you end up saying too little, leaving your reader wondering what the rules around your magic system really are.

Other times, you might be tempted to info dump all the ins and outs of how the magic in your story works…running the risk of boring your readers to tears. How can you find the right balance?

While I can’t say that I have a definitive solution, the best way I have found to explain magic is to only provide the minimum amount of detail your reader needs to understand the limits and opportunities of the magic system you have created.

For example, in my recent flash fiction story ‘A Clockwork Bride‘ all of the rules of the magic system are simply explained by mentioning three specific aspects:

1. Magic requires the use of a key (vehicle) – this step is optional

2. The key contains magic silver dust that gets gradually used up by the clockwork body (limitation)

3. Every time the key is used, some magic dust residue remains within the clockwork body (opportunity)

To sum it up, bringing your magic system to life with clarity and in a way that engages and intrigues your reader may not be a piece of cake but it’s certainly possible.

Keep it simple, be selective in what information you need to share and let your characters do the rest. Their reactions and use of the magic is key to your reader’s understanding. Don’t info dump!

See ya next time ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you are struggling to explain your magic system, are prone to info dumping or have an even better idea how to successfully explain magic in your stories, share your thoughts in the comments below! If you have a story that demonstrates your approach, feel free to post a link to it!

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Story, World-building

Are your origin stories a waste of time?

Whoever said outlining has to be boring? Not me! As all my regular readers know, outlining is an important part of my writing process…and definitely essential for characters, and plot. On world-building, I am considering myself still an apprentice to the masters (Brandon Sanderson, I will eternally appreciate all the video lectures you put out on YouTube. I would have long given up on writing fantasy without these!) but I know for sure that I won’t get very far if I don’t develop a decent process for my world-building, too.

One of the many things I am curious about at the moment is the value of origin stories. As much as I appreciate that these can be written after the publication of a major fantasy book or series, what about writing these as part of the world-building process? You might think this is crazy-talk but I have started experimenting with this on Wattpad (as @JosieColeWrites) and the first few responses to ‘Original Magic’ are quite positive…rankings for it aren’t too shabby either.

Cover design by Josie Cole; royalty free stock image from pixabay.com

But whatever the rankings and feedback might be, at the end of the day the origin short story I am writing is not getting me any closer to finishing my actual novel – or is it?

As I see it, every piece of my story world that is revealed in my origin story naturally emerges from the needs to the origin storyline and saves me having to sit in my home office and sweat over artificial details that may never need to be mentioned in the corresponding novel. Instead, I can make sure that I come up with the important details without which my story world cannot make sense.

Brandon Sanderson has a terms for this concept of only building just enough details to make your reader believe in your story world: the hollow iceberg. Imagine the top of an iceberg being the amount of world-building that you need to put into your novel to describe to the reader where the story takes place. All the massive part of the iceberg that remains under water represents the backstory and world-building writers create to be able to work out the bits that make up the top. BUT the iceberg is hollow…because unless you have the next 20 years to get your 1st novel written, you have to learn to fake it.

So, you see? It’s through my origin story writing that I am working on becoming an excellent story-world-faker (I mean fantasy author).

See ya next time ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you have any experience with ‘faking’ your world-building, feel strong objection to the concept outlined in this post, or have a better idea about what to do with origin stories (no rude suggestions please), let me know in the comments below.

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World-building, Writing Process

How to invent a magic system?

No character can be almighty. Even the strongest and meanest villain has to have some level of weakness…otherwise, why would we be reading? That’s my number one reminder to myself when I am coming up with magic systems for my stories. As much as magic is an amazing story tool and so interesting to write, without limitations it all falls apart.

Now this isn’t to say that this limits a writer’s imagination. It certainly doesn’t limit mine. Think of all the wonderful ways in which magic can be limited. Maybe it only works under certain conditions, in certain places, in the presence of specific artifacts, or away from certain materials…yes we all heard about kryptonite…

So where to start with your magic system? You could try starting with the cool stuff if you find the limitations boring. If the idea of limitations excites you, try spinning the whole concept on its head and start by working out what magic can’t do in your story or when it won’t work (at least not reliably).

Sometimes the best magic systems can come out of a process of elimination. If your character can’t do x and y with magic…how else would they do these things and what other magical abilities do they have to solve their problems (or at least try)?

You can also use limitations in your magic system to mould your characters and ensure there is growth throughout the character arc. If they can’t solve a problem by using magic, is there a non-magical way they can solve it?

Maybe they have to learn a new skill or make an alliance…or perhaps there is something the character has been avoiding that is now the only way forward for them, seeing that magic is not available?

See ya next time ๐Ÿ˜‰

Would love to hear about all the quirky magic systems that you can possibly imagine…and the appropriate limitations, of course. Mine still needs more work but, don’t worry, you will hear more about it as I get closer to working it out. If you are planning on writing this weekend, I hope it goes well for you!

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World-building, Writing Process

Are your world-building ideas overrated?

The idea that sparks a world is only a grain of sand at first. Slowly, it morphs and grows until a whole universe starts to breathe from within your notes and maps. And you need a lot of them to build enough before you write. It makes me want to throw up every time I think about just how many ideas it takes to bring a world to life.

As established in my latest post, I have a lot of homework yet to do to bring my story world into existence. All I have so far is a few kernels of understanding. A bag of seeds that are yet to be planted.

Every writer wants to come up with a cool world for their story – that’s a given. But not every aspect of your world can be cool. Your world needs all the boring things too…like plumbing (or some form of waste management – I need to stop thinking about magical loos!). Some aspects of your world will be a logical follow on from some decisions you make in the process of crafting your epic masterpiece and it might not feel all too exciting to be tied into certain causal links between the various elements.

I feel your pain. But here’s the upside to all of this: if you find a few cool ideas for the key elements of your story world, you can snowball them and be off the hook for a great deal of the other parts. Certainly takes the pressure of the good old idea engine.

See ya next time ๐Ÿ˜‰

Are you a world-building veteran? If so, what was the coolest world-building idea you ever came up with? Tell me in the comments below…oh and feel free to let me have a link to your novel or story if you published it. If you feel brave, what were your worst ideas?...I hope mine were magical loos!

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